Veterans provide a united front at Nevada Legislature

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RENO — With the legislature convening Monday in Carson City, the United Veterans Legislative Council (UVLC) will be putting its best foot forward during the 120-day session to present a unified voice for veterans, the military and families.

The UVLC, which partners with the Nevada Department of Veterans Services, offered its insight for the upcoming session to its members and other interested parties at a recent Veterans Legislative Summit in Reno. Tony Yarbrough, chairman of the UVLC, said the council formed to present one voice to the Legislature rather than having separate groups appear before committees and the full Assembly and Senate with separate viewpoints.

“We became a very formidable voice in front of the legislature,” Yarbrough said. “We have no dues. We just have advocates who are passionate about veterans issues.”

According to Yarbrough, the UVLC consists of every veterans’ organization in the state, and each group provides feedback to the council on how the members feel about certain issues. From the feedback, the UVLC conducts a symposium to identify issues.

“This is what the community needs, this is what we see as a problem. How can you fix it?” Yarbrough rhetorically asked in how the UVLC approaches the Assembly and Senate.

Yarbrough said the UVLC does not support candidates or a party but discusses the issues, not politics. Over the years, Yarbrough said the UVLC has made progress and identified problems that either needed correction or introduced as new legislation. He said many concerns for this legislature will only require an administrative correction or updating the language to meet current or future needs.

Yarbrough said the UVLC works with the Legislative Council Bureau, lawmakers and agencies to find solutions. Furthermore, Yarbrough said compromise is the word when it comes to working with the legislators.

“They (lawmakers) don’t know unless we tell them,” he added. “If you can’t get what you need, you get what you can get,” he said.

State Sen. Julie Ratti, D-Washoe County, who represents District 13, said she likes organizations such as the UVLC because it makes a difference.

“You are focused in making a difference for our friends and neighbors who serve our country,” she said.

Because of term limits, Ratti said the Assembly and state Senate normally turn over about one-third of their members each session, and she stressed for the UVLC not only to reach out to the seasoned lawmakers but also to contact the freshmen legislators.

“Tell them what you have done,” she said. “We need to make sure the new people get up to speed.”

Ratti said proposed bills or Bill Draft Proposals may not have the word veterans mentioned in its language but they will affect the military in areas such as mental health and affordable housing.

Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Minden, a U.S. Air Force veteran who represents District 39, serves as his party’s minority leader. He said both major political parties are equally interested in legislation affecting servicemen and women.

“Both sides get along in discussing veterans and military issues and how we’re going to fix the problem and do it together,” he said.

After Wheeler spoke, Yarbrough stressed he wants Nevada to stay as the most veteran-friendly state to veterans.

Keith Hightower, Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs director for the governor, said he’s the eyes and ears of the government and helps analyze and oversees the bills going to the governor’s desk whether they’re signed or not.

Yarbrough encouraged veterans and other concerned individuals to sign up for the Nevada Electronic Legislative Information System (NELIS), which provides bill tracking. Those signing up will able to subscribe to drafted bills, bills and budgets that are of interest. Once subscribers sign up, Yarbrough said they will receive immediate notifications of hearings and daily status notification and provide access to tailored reports for the subscriptions individuals desire.

Additionally, Yarbrough said veterans can also sign up to be a non-paid lobbyist, which provides them easy access to lawmakers and most of the Nevada State Legislature Building, demonstrate the depth of involvement of veterans in the legislative process and support the UVLC and NDVS at hearings.

Kat Miller, director of the NDVS, reviewed the last four sessions and the number of bills considered and passed. Based on a recent history of veterans’ legislation, she said lawmakers considered 11 bills in 2011 but only six passed. In 2015, lawmakers considered 32 pieces of legislation but passed only 21 passing. During the 2017 session, the symposium identified 37 issues with 29 of them considered by legislators and 26 passing. Examples of legislation passed during the 2015 and 2017 sessions included $50 million for construction of the Northern Nevada State Veterans Home, tax deduction for employers who hire unemployed veterans, expanded exemption of college tuition and required state licensing boards to develop reciprocity opportunities for veterans.

For the 2019 session, the ULVC has identified 53 issues that cover eight statewide themes: Honor and recognize a veteran’s service by reducing certain state fees and taxes, increase veteran service officers (VSO) and veteran outreach capacity, support veteran employment, expand suicide prevention support and evaluation, support veterans; housing initiatives, enhance connection to veteran benefits, honor veterans’ services and support veterans’’ courts.

In his inaugural address, newly-elected Gov. Steve Sisolak mentioned the need for additional VSOs in rural Nevada with one each at Pahrump and Fallon.

Another area Yarbrough mentioned included support to conduct Military Sexual Trauma workshops and recommending the NDVS reclassify the Women Veterans Coordinator/rover position to a Veterans Service Officer/ Women Veterans Coordinator position.


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